Smoking is hazardous to health; to the health of the person smoking and to the health of those around that person. Most people, even those who still keep the habit, know the dangers of smoking, but just how much do you know about exposure to smoke when you aren’t the one with a cigarette in-hand?
A new study reminds us when you smell the smoke from a cigarette, you are most likely in the presence of thirdhand smoke–even if it has been hours or days since a cigarette was actually lit in the vicinity. The lingering smell from tobacco products comes from lingering chemicals in the environment, and experts from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory now know that toxins from cigarette smoke can remain present for many hours after a cigarette has been extinguished.
“In the U.S., the home is now where nonsmokers are most exposed to second- and thirdhand smoke. The goal of our study is to provide information supporting effective protective measures in the home. The amount of harm is measurable even several hours after smoking ends,” said chemist Hugo Destaillats, lead author of the study, to MNT. “Many smokers know secondhand smoke is harmful, so they don’t smoke when their kids are present. But if, for example, they stop smoking at 2 p.m. and the kids come home at 4 p.m., our work shows that up to 60 percent of the harm from inhaling thirdhand smoke remains.”
So now you know that just the scent of a lit cigarette might mean you are putting your health at risk, but what else don’t you know about smoke exposure? Check out these 9 other facts about second- and thirdhand smoke:
- More than 250 chemicals in secondhand smoke are considered toxic to humans, and of those, 69 are known to cause cancer.
- Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke increase their heart disease risk by 2530 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
- There is no “safe” level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
- The American Lung Association notes: “Research into previously secret tobacco industry documents reveals that research conducted by cigarette company Philip Morris in the 1980s showed that secondhand smoke was highly toxic, yet the company suppressed these findings during the next two decades.”
- Secondhand smoke is responsible for between 150,000 and 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in infants and children under 18 months of age, resulting in between 7,500 and 15,000 hospitalizations each year, and causes 430 sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) deaths in the U.S. annually.
- Only 43.3 percent of smokers (65.2 percent of non-smokers) believe that thirdhand smoke causes harm to children, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.
- Hotel workers are among those at the highest risk for thirdhand smoke exposure from housekeeping responsibilities.
- The only sure way to get rid of thirdhand smoke toxins is to replace everything–including carpet.
- Babies are particularly in danger of thirdhand smoke exposure because they spend months at floor level learning to crawl and then walk.
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“So far, we have not found an exposed environment where you cannot measure it (thirdhand smoke) any more,” Georg Matt, chair of the Department of Psychology at San Diego State University in California, told National Geographic. “It’s virtually impossible to remove this stuff unless you remove the flooring and drywall.”
Unfortunately, there are no studies yet identifying what levels of thirdhand smoke are toxic within the body; researchers only know that toxic chemicals remains present in the environment for hours to days. The best option at this point in time is to avoid exposure to second-and thirdhand smoke whenever possible.